Jordan has foiled a plot by an al-Qaeda-linked cell to bomb its shopping centers and assassinate Western diplomats, state TV said on Sunday, thwarting an attempt to destabilize the key US ally.
Security forces had detained 11 suspects, all Jordanians, in connection with the plot, which envisaged carrying out attacks in the capital, Amman, using smuggled weapons and explosives from Syria, according to security officials cited by state TV.
The plot had been active since June.
Jordanian Minister of Information Samih al Maaytah said the arrests underscored the serious threat posed by radical “terror groups” seeking to undermine the kingdom’s long tradition of stability.
A key US ally in the Middle East and Israel’s peace partner, Jordan enjoys close ties with Western intelligence agencies and has often been targeted by al-Qaeda and other Islamist militants. The cell had targeted two major shopping malls in the capital and was planning a bombing campaign in the capital’s affluent Abdoun neighborhood, where many foreign embassies are located.
A security source said the suspects had manufactured explosives “aimed at inflicting the heaviest losses possible.”
“The group was able to devise new types of explosives to be used for the first time and planned to add TNT to increase their destructive impact,” the source said.
The same security source said there was a crucial link with Syria, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is battling to put down an uprising against his family’s rule.
“Their plans included getting explosives and mortars from Syria,” the security source said, saying the militants had sought to strike at a time of regional upheaval when the country’s security establishment is overstretched.
The authorities said they had seized large quantities of ammunition, machine guns and other items, such as computers.
The militants were training to use “suicide bombers using explosive belts and booby-trapped cars,” another security source said.
Maaytah told reporters that members of the militant group had spent some time in Syria, without saying when they had returned to Jordan.
“This group arrived from Syria. They have been going in and out,” Maaytah said, adding that the case had been transferred to the state security prosecutor.
Another security source said the cell had been fighting for “some period” alongside Islamist rebel groups in Syria.
Jordan has in recent months arrested scores of hardline Islamist fundamentalists along its northern border with Syria as they were about to cross into the country to join jihadist groups fighting to overthrow al-Assad.
If Jordan allows al-Assad’s opponents to aid the armed uprising, Amman’s security forces fear the Syrian government could retaliate by sending agents to carry out bomb attacks inside the country.
Intercepted e-mail showed that the cell had received advice from Iraqi al-Qaeda explosives experts.
Jordan regularly arrests Islamist suspects and puts them on trial in military courts that human rights groups say are illegal and lack proper legal safeguards. Many civic groups also say many of the Islamist cases are politically motivated.
In 2005, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for three suicide bombings that ripped through luxury hotels in Jordan’s capital, killing dozens of people.